With the iconic Ithra building glistening in the night sky, the 8th annual Saudi Film Festival came to a close on an unusually cool Dhahran night.
Once again, as it did on opening night on June 2, the red carpet led filmmakers and movie enthusiasts into the cinema, where lovers of film had mingled for the past eight days. Much of the festival was broadcast on YouTube and was shared widely on the festival’s social media channels and on hashtags.
Ahmed Al-Mulla, the Saudi Film Festival director, poetically concluded the closing remarks to a standing ovation. A few speeches followed and, of course, there was the usual banter between actors Ibrahem Al-Hajjaj and actress Sarah Taibah, who were also the presenters on opening night. They provided humor and some context, as well as encouragement to everyone participating in or attending the festival.
The big winner of the night was the Saudi-centric “Quareer,” the ambitious anthology featuring five vignettes— each directed by a different woman as part of their graduation project. Every story in that masterpiece highlighted a realistic narrative about a Saudi women or girl who was living in the Kingdom at a time in the more recent past — before many of the big changes for women’s empowerment were implemented in the Kingdom. The five women — Ragheed Al-Nahdi, Norah Almowald, Ruba Khafagy, Fatma Alhazmi and Noor Alameer — broke the record by winning four awards: For Best Feature Film, Best Acting, Best Cinematography and the Jury Prize. The women collected the golden palm awards, which had a cash prize for each win.
Other awards included Best Short Documentary, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Produced Script. For a full list of winners, visit the SaudiFilmFestival website.
While it was a supportive environment, it was made clear by Al-Hajjaj and others on stage that the real winners were those who dared to dream about being involved in filmmaking in the Kingdom. Simply being in the Ithra cinema, among those passionate creatives, was a testament to the willingness of many to go beyond the screen as passive viewers. Everyone, essentially, was a winner simply by being there or choosing to engage with the festival.
One such person was Jeddah-based filmmaker Ismail Al-Bukhari. He participated at the Saudi Film Festival with a movie he shot in New York City during the pandemic. It took him two years to complete the English-language thriller because he insisted on doing every part of the film himself, from shooting, directing and editing. He said that the experience was “surreal” and he was just happy to be there.
“It feels really great to walk the red carpet for the first time — and in my home country — which is something I’ve never imagined it would happen in a million years. This is also my world premier for my first movie, 'Resurrected.' A lot of firsts — but hopefully not my last,” he told Arab News.